Op-ed: Takeaways From Iowa Debacle

Former Mayor of South Bend, Pete Buttigieg narrowly beat Bernie Sanders in terms of his share of State Delegates Equivalents, with 100% of districts’ numbers finally released. However, Sanders won over 2,500 more votes than Buttigieg and the “inconsistencies” with the reporting of results will have many Americans questioning the voting process and legitimacy thereof, with caucuses in particular.

Note: I have been holding off writing this for until full results have been released. 100% of districts have been accounted for, as of 07/02/20. However, there is still a possibility of recanvasing and results are subject to change.

Image: NY Post [AFP via Getty Images]

The voting system in the United States never ceases to confuse even the closest followers of America’s politics. The electoral college system is frequently criticized by American citizens and pundits alike for its confusing nature and disregard for the popular vote. For example, it is the reason that Donald Trump is in office in the first place, with Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote in the 2016 general election.

Today, however, we will not be putting the electoral college under the microscope, but the primaries’ system, with caucuses in particular. Monday’s Iowa caucus led to a complete mess that has led to questions over the democratic legitimacy of the process to pick the Democratic Party’s nominee for the general election.

Image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images (Vox)

For Bernie Sanders, it seems like de ja vu after the nightmare of his 2016 loss to the aforementioned Hillary Clinton. Sanders was a complete outsider when he entered the presidential race in 2015, but rose to prominence as a seemingly incorruptible politician that refused funding from corporate Political Action Committees (PACs), opting to fund his campaign through small dollar donations. The fact that he was accountable not to small groups of wealthy donors was incredibly appealing to his army of supporters and his support for policies such as Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, forgiving all student debt and free higher education only served to make him more popular.

Sanders was particularly popular among young voters, people of colour and blue-collar workers in the Mid-West (a crucial region for the electoral college). However, despite his populist approach resonating with many voters and key demographics, the rules set out for the Democratic Party for the primaries favoured the Clinton campaign, particularly with regards to superdelegates, who had aligned with Clinton because of her strong start to the primaries in Iowa. This year, however, Sanders was a clear favourite going into the first round of voting, according to numerous polls.

Despite this, his favour with Iowa voters has, once again, been mitigated by technicalities. Sanders won the popular vote by 45,826 votes to his closest competitor, Pete Buttigieg’s 43,195, according to Politico. However, it was Buttigieg who narrowly beat Sanders in the State Delegate Equivalents (SDE’s). SDEs are based on caucus site results, because, unlike other states, Iowa determines its winner by where candidates amass delegates, which is determined by an algorithm. For example, Buttigieg narrowly won Polk county, where the state capital of De Moines is situated by 0.4%, while Sanders beat Buttigieg by more than 8% in Story county. However, most voters will be unsurprised by this and, in terms of the raw result, both Buttigieg and Sanders will walk away from Iowa with 10 national delegates in the near tie. But the story doesn’t end there.

Image: Business Insider [Timothy Clary / AFP / Getty]

Iowa is considered to be one of the most critical primaries for the simple reason that it is the first state to vote. Whoever wins Iowa gets positive press coverage, as the Iowa win aids their claim to be an “electable” candidate. Since 1996, only three of Iowa’s winners, both Republican and Democrat, did not go on to win the nomination. This is exactly why the Buttigieg campaign has put most of its resources into Iowa. That momentum carries on to other early primaries like New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, which pave the way for a successful campaign throughout the entire country.

Therefore, the “inconsistencies” that led to errors in the results, particularly with regards to the Shadow and Acronym apps (funded by the Buttigieg campaign) that crashed and was the first factor that put the results into question on Monday evening. And, even though the results are now in, Democratic National Committee chairman, Tom Perez, has said that recanvasing – basically an additional audit – will take place to ensure the legitimacy of the results.

It’s even possible that, by the time the New Hampshire primary takes place on Tuesday that we still won’t have official confirmation of who has won Iowa, mitigating the positive coverage that the winner would have received if the process had been smooth and without fault. So, whoever the winner may be, by whatever metric you choose is important, they have a right to feel hard done by.


At the end of the day, the big winner on Monday was actually Donald Trump. The shambolic nature of the Democratic race allows him to poke fun at their disorganisation and the possible illegitimacy of the results.

When Bernie Sanders lost the nomination due to the biases favouring the Clinton campaign in 2016, many voters decided to abandon the Democratic Party and vote for Trump instead. And it’s arguable that Hillary Clinton’s stranglehold over the Democrat’s party apparatus and her perceived corruption is what cost her the election.

Image: en-volve

It is Sanders’ refusal to allow massive corporate donations, his championing of working-class rights and dedication to American democracy that has made him such a popular candidate to voters and millennials in particular. The primaries this year will undoubtedly have a major impact on the future of the Democratic Party, especially with Sanders pushing for new coalitions with unions.

And, if the Iowa mess carries through to any other states, one may even suggest that the survival of the party could be on the line and the legitimacy of America’s democracy might come into question. Not to mention, it’s difficult to envision what the country would look like after another four years of Trump in the White House.

Published by Kyle Smith

Kyle is a journalist by qualification that has operated professionally in a number of roles in a wide variety of fields. His interests lie in sports, politics, technology and entertainment. Writing from Cape Town, South Africa, Kyle also engages with locals and visits prominent locations in The Mother City, whilst also taking an interest in current affairs abroad.

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